Monday, October 24, 2016

Praktan, directed by Nandita Roy and Shiboprosad Mukherjee

India (Bengali), 2016
143 min, drama
Directed by Nandita Roy and Shiboprosad Mukherjee
Starring Rituparna Sengupta, Aparajita Auddy, and Prosenjit Chatterjee

Content Warning: Discussion of Emotional and Physical Abuse

Ten years ago, Sudipa and Ujaan divorced after a difficult marriage. Today, Sudipa finds herself in a first-class train carriage from Mumbai to Kolkata with Malini, Ujaan’s new wife, and their daughter. During the course of the two-night train journey, Sudipa finally deals with the pain from years before.

Meanwhile, we see the stories of people in other rooms in the same carriage. Four famous Bengali musicians (Surojit Chatterjee, Anindya Chatterjee, Upal Sengupta, and Anupam Roy, playing themselves) serenade each other with new compositions. An elderly couple returns from Mumbai after seeing their son off to the US. And last but not least, a couple of newlyweds put the trip in a private cabin to good use.

Both an intimate story of pain, heartbreak, and healing, and a glance at the things that happen in first class, this is a new, great train movie from West Bengal. However, the ending left a bad taste in my mouth.

Abuse and Toxic Masculinity

After a promising start to their marriage, Ujaan quickly becomes incredibly abusive. As an experienced architect, Sudipa makes more money than he does (his job is as guide of walking tours of Kolkata’s heritage sites). She is independent and used to making decisions and taking trips on her own.

Ujaan finds all of these things threatening to his masculinity. When Sudipa wants to spend her own money to buy clothes for him, Ujaan interprets this action as a statement about his inability to support them. When Sudipa asks him to take the day off to celebrate her birthday, or to support her during an extremely difficult pregnancy, he never seems to find the time. And then his excuse is always that he had to make money to support them. He never allowed her to contribute any of her salary toward the family's income, either.

Not all of the abuse comes directly from Ujaan. While his family mostly seems to be kind to Sudipa, there is one incident that indicates severe emotional and physical abuse. When Sudipa is in the midst of her difficult pregnancy, and is therefore in great pain, her mother-in-law forces her to visit all of the relatives during the holidays. This is just torture. The mother-in-law's reasoning is that it would be inauspicious to tell people that Sudipa is pregnant, which would cause her to lose the baby. But of course she loses it anyway, probably partially because of being dragged all over Kolkata.

Sudipa calls Ujaan out on all of this. She points out that he is misunderstanding her. She wants to contribute, but he’s not letting her. She tells him that she needed him to be there to help with the pregnancy, but no one was there to support her. Ujaan seems to realize that this was a bad thing to do, but his male ego and allegiance to his mother prohibits him from actually apologizing. Of course, this lack of remorse infuriates Sudipa and she calls him out on it even more. I was happy to see that Sudipa, at least, was willing to criticize her husband’s bad decisions and patriarchal worldview.


It is now 10 years after Sudipa and Ujaan separated. In that time, Sudipa has carried this incredible pain around – and it seems that Ujaan has, as well. Ujaan treats his new wife, Malini, much better than he ever treated Sudipa. In fact, it seems that he has done a lot of soul-searching and realized many of the major mistakes he had committed in their relationship. Perhaps trying to atone for his earlier actions, or perhaps just trying to make this marriage work out better, he does all of the things he should have done for Sudipa – including the ones that Sudipa pointed out to him.

For Sudipa, this train journey initially seems like a nightmare. She is stuck in the same small room as her ex-husband’s new wife and daughter. But over the course of the journey she is confronted with the past and actually finds time to reflect – giving her the chance to finally let that pain go and forgive both Ujaan and herself.

Disappointing Ending

While overall this movie seems very mature in its treatment of emotions, the ending undermines the overall theme. After seeing how Sudipa was constantly abused by Ujaan, it is a huge letdown to see her admit that it was partially her fault. Where did the brave, confident woman who pointed out her own abuse go? This pandering to traditional patriarchal attitudes at the end managed to ruin an otherwise excellent film, at least for me.

Discounting the very disappointing ending, this film is worth watching for the mature emotional investigation it undertakes.

Further Reading: 

"Emotional Abuse of Women by their Intimate Partners: A Literature Review" by Valerie J. Packota
"Worried Your Partner Is Emotionally Abusive? Check Out These 7 Warning Signs" by Emma Rust (Everyday Feminism)
"9 Ways to Be Accountable When You’ve Been Abusive" by Kai Cheng Thom (Everyday Feminism)

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